2023 -  Q1

When do we talk about excessive shopping?

Publicis Groupe Hungary’s media market survey at the end of 2022 explores the topic of conscious and compulsive buying. With the help of an expert, we present the psychological drivers of shopping.

Where do we draw the line: when do we talk about excessive shopping?

The psychological drivers of compulsive buying

For many of us, the beginning of the year is about renewal, starting afresh and getting rid of bad habits. Yet this is in interesting contrast to the end of the year, which is typically a time of holiday shopping, bulk purchases and sales promotions. The topic of conscious shopping is explored in the Publicis Groupe Hungary 2022 end-of-year media market survey, which reports that a significant proportion of shoppers have already returned or plan to return products bought during the sales period.

“I will buy this sweater, but then never again”

The return rate of purchases is staggering, showing a lack of conscious consumer behavior among the population. According to data from a survey commissioned by Publicis Groupe Hungary’s Media Business Unit via the Talkonline social platform* questionnaire panel at the end of 2022, consumers returned or plan to return 6.2% of products purchased during the Black Friday period, often at a significant discount. Anyone who has ever shopped in their lifetime has either overspent or had products ‘slip’ into their shopping basket that they had not originally planned to buy. Just as we have all decided at least once that this is the last one, that we don’t need any more, even when the stock sweep is on sale. But then why are we tempted again and again?

You may download the study from here: Download

We cannot talk about conscious consumer choice and responsible consumer habits without talking about the psychological processes behind the purchase. “The most important thing to know is that money and shopping are never just maths; it’s much more than how much you can spend with the money you have. What we buy and when we buy it is influenced by our childhood experiences, our family patterns, changes in our self-image, our coping styles and our emotion regulation processes.” explains psychology expert Kata Herendi.

Conscious shopping could literally be described as reflecting on all of this at the moment of making a purchasing decision. However, this (would be) a very time- and energy-consuming process, so we rely on so-called heuristics, a kind of shortcut decision path when we buy something. In such cases, we tend to go for the path of least resistance: if it’s on sale, I’m there, or I see the ad and I like it, I’ll take it. The decision-making process is thus considerably shortened, but it is partly because of this shortening that we sometimes buy things we don’t really need or that don’t fit into our lives.

My future self will love it

“Every person likes to think of themselves as someone who is completely rational and makes logical decisions. It’s not easy to face the fact that this is not always true – and perhaps the best example of this is our customer decisions.” adds Rita Horváth, Head of Media Business Unit at Publicis Groupe Hungary. As the above-mentioned research shows, most purchases are – in principle – made for entirely rational reasons (“I bought something I didn’t have before”, “I needed it”, etc.) But it is not only cold logic that plays a role in decisions, but also emotions – and sometimes they work against us. The increase in the amount of returned and exchanged goods in the first months of the year may also be due to the fact that we are trying to give more space to our new, more streamlined selves. “New year, new me”, we might think, because a clean slate always sounds promising. But it’s worth thinking about who this new you is and how different it is from the old you. According to research, 42% of items returned to shops are returned because the item didn’t fit (too small, too big, etc.) While this is a risk with any purchase (especially if you don’t have the opportunity to try it on), it’s always worth being aware of who you’re buying for: who you are in the present, or some kind of imagined future self, who is of course in every way far superior to your current self.

Compulsive buying

In addition to excessive shopping, it is also important to mention so-called compulsive shopping, which is a form of behavioral addiction. It is also rooted in the use of shopping as a coping strategy, but to a degree that significantly reduces our quality of life. In the case of compulsive shopping, the vicious cycle of ‘hunting’ and buying can begin to eclipse other things that used to be important to us, such as time with loved ones, friends or work. And because of the irresistible urge to shop, we tend to overspend, and can eventually face financial problems.

So should I buy it or not?

If we want to buy more consciously, it is important to be aware of the underlying drivers that may influence our decisions. It is worth taking the time to consider whether we really need the item, or whether we are buying it because we feel it will make us feel better, or simply want something new, something different. “Let’s try to avoid being weighed down by a pile of unused possessions and take an important step towards surrounding ourselves with things that really fit who we are.” says Kata Herendi.

* About the Talkonline questionnaire panel

Talk is a social platform where members are invited to complete questionnaires. The topics covered in the questionnaires are very diverse, ranging from lifestyle and financial decisions to current social issues and consumer preferences. Talk credits members with a certain number of points for each completed questionnaire received by email. Points can be redeemed for a variety of rewards, such as cash, gift certificates, magazine subscriptions or charitable donations. Publicis Groupe Hungary’s questionnaire panel was surveyed among online internet users aged 18+ living in large cities.